On 8th May 1979, a fire was reported in what was said to be the largest Woolworths store in Europe. There were around 500 customers and staff inside the store and in total ten people died in the fire, 26 were rescued by the fire brigade and 47 were taken to hospital.
It is believed that the fire was started by a damaged electrical cable that had furniture stacked in front of it. BREβs investigation included constructing a 5m x 12m by 3m high test compartment and fitting it with a stacked furniture arrangement that represented conditions in the store. The test showed that a discharge of about 1700 m3/min (at 800 deg C) of very dense and toxic smoke may have been present two minutes after ignition by a match.
The store had no sprinkler system fitted. BRE conducted a number of tests to examine the impact sprinklers would have had on this fire, and to develop sprinkler systems that could handle large department store fires.
To read a recent news story about the fire click here.